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Beards: Making a statement in ever- changing fashion world

NATIONAL
By Gloria Milimu | September 4th 2021
Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho.

Beards, those hairy extensions of masculinity, are back as fashion and cultural statements: long or short, matted or manicured, trimmed or wild, bobbed or bushy, they seem to transcend generations in their cyclic comebacks for aesthetics too.

And not since the advent of hair curlers and perm kits in the 1970s and 80s has facial hair become such a trendy mark of a man, his class, his taste.

And, just like the men sporting them, beards come in variations, often determined by age, career, genetics, social class or exposure, but the Covid-19 pandemic shoved back the bushy look as men avoided barbershops because of social distancing.

Image consultants agree beards are back in style and a well-maintained, tidy look never runs out of fashion.

“I prefer mine trimmed,” says Lokirion Josephat, a student at Kenyatta University. “It makes me look neat and presentable.”

Jeremiah Ndege, a Nairobi resident, also likes his trimmed and neat as long and bushy would make him appear less professional.

Project masculinity

The return of beards as fashion statements started in the US during the 2008 global financial crisis when men began growing beards to project masculinity, but also to gain an advantage when searching for jobs in the precarious job market of the time.

So, beards gradually became markers of not just the primal ability of a man, but also an insignia of dependability at the workplace.

“A beard is a social amplifier of masculinity within the context of a crowded environment where you’re trying to get ahead,” says Barnaby Dixson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia and co-author of a study titled, Beards and the Big City.

But beards have other uses beyond statements of fashion, images of masculinity and competitive edges to get ahead of the pack.

Hair has utilitarian value, with scientists positing that from the historic times, men grew long beards for warmth and protecting the face from the elements, as cushions to blows and as a sign of intimidation.

But in contemporary Kenya where battles are no longer won by brute force, but skills, education and bank balances, the beards craze appears to be driven by women who seem to love them.

But, while this craze has caught on, it is but only a dream for others, and genetics has nothing to do with it.

Civil servants and men who work in banks, for instance, are discouraged from growing beards.

The same goes for the disciplined forces who are supposed to maintain order, hygiene and discipline while for airline stewards it is part of grooming.

However, sporting a well-trimmed mustache is allowed.

But for priests and bishops, having a clean-shaven face dates back to the sixth century when the Roman Catholic church began discouraging priests from sporting bushy beards.

To date, a majority of priests, bishops and cardinals have maintained the tradition of clean-shaven faces.

But other Christian orders viewed long beards as a sign of piety and masculinity and so do some denominations and sects like the Akorino and Rastafarians who refer to the Old Testament to dispense with combs and shaving creams.

Some men rarely grow facial hairs while others completely lack it, which Dr Winnie Njenga, a dermatologist, says is “genetically predominant”.

“For most people who naturally do not grow facial hair, it is more of a genetic issue, and I would not advice on the use of ‘purported’ hair stimulation oils,” she says.

Waiting for a beard to grow can be frustrating, but health experts say facial hair is largely propelled by the testosterone hormone besides genetics, as some have a ‘scant beard’ despite normal testosterone levels – largely due to genetic variations, ethnicity and heredity.

Some men believe frequent shaving helps the beards to grow faster or appear full and thick, but experts consider that a myth, as shaving only makes beards look uniform and neat.

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